It was an honor to have some of the many people who have played a role in the Cannon Y come back to the Kannapolis branch and share some of their memories with us for this special video. Spend a few minutes with us as we take a walk down memory lane and also hear why the Y is still relevant and thriving today.
Cannon Memorial YMCA Branches and History
The Cannon Memorial YMCAs rich history began in Kannapolis in 1908. For many years the Cannon Y served as the primary recreation for the City of Kannapolis. The original YMCA buildings offered a bowling alley, movie theater, library, swimming pools and more. Today's Kannapolis Branch opened on January 18, 1987 and has seen several renovations over the years.
Before the West Cabarrus Branch was built we served this community out of a little white house on Pitts School Road located in Harrisburg. In 1998-99 discussions began to build a YMCA in the heart of Afton Village. With contributions from David Mayfield, the City of Concord, NorthEast Medical Center and the Cannon Foundation we moved forward with the construction of the West Cabarrus YMCA. The 65,000 sq. foot branch opened on October 5, 2003.
Before the opening of the West Cabarrus Branch, the Cannon Memorial YMCA served the town of Harrisburg from a remote location in a small mill house on Pitts School Road. From here the residents of Harrisburg could register for youth sports, swim lessons, summer camp, special events and more. This office closed and re-opened its service at the new West Cabarrus Branch. However, we recognized the recreational needs of Harrisburg residents which led to the opening of the Harrisburg Branch on December 3, 2006. It is located on the 2nd floor of Town Hall in Harrisburg.
During the completion phases of the Cannon Manufacturing Company in 1907, J.W. Cannon and his board of directors held a meeting where the idea of forming a YMCA was discussed. The minutes of the meeting record: “J.W. Cannon suggested that we erect a building to be used for a library, gymnasium and other amusements.”
Cannon Memorial YMCA has served women since as early as 1925 with the official Women’s Department opening in 1940. Approximately 35 women’s clubs were organized by Women’s Director, Bess Breedlove Thomason, in the 1940s and 1950s.
Cannon Y was the first YMCA in the South to have a fully equipped and staffed department for women and girls. By 1958, Cannon YMCA had the largest membership of women in the South with 4,723 female members and four full time female staff.
Growth was rapid during the Cannon Memorial YMCA’s early years. Bowling lanes, a movie theater, pool tables and numerous physical activities attracted members. In 1910, crowds overflowed at the old Kannapolis Ball Park to watch the Kannapolis YMCA Baseball Club, known as the “Y Nine”, battle area rivals.
The Beginning of Cannon YMCA Sponsorships and Charities
In addition to physical activities, the Cannon YMCA rendered many services to the Kannapolis community.
From 1928 to 1937, a tonsil clinic operated during the summer months. Charity programs also began, such as the Empty Stocking Fund in 1937 (sponsored jointly with “The Daily Independent”). The Empty Stocking Fund was created as a way to reach out to those less fortunate during the Christmas season and continues to serve the community today.
The Kannapolis community was devastated when a fire destroyed the Cannon Memorial YMCA structure in 1937. Fire could not destroy the YMCA spirit in Kannapolis. Temporary facilities opened downtown and on January 22, 1940, a new Cannon Memorial YMCA was dedicated by Mr. C. A. Cannon, son of J. W. Cannon, in memory of his parents.
Records show that Cannon Memorial YMCA has provided excellent camping opportunities for youth throughout Cabarrus County since 1912. However the emphasis on the summer camping experience began in earnest in 1933 as orchestrated by J. T. Fesperman, Executive Director of the YMCA. Fesperman introduced the youth of Kannapolis to Camp Elliott during the summer of 1933 and it served young people until the late 1970's.
"The ministers of the community and the YMCA secretary met in a body Saturday morning and formed a ministerial association, with the following ministers as members: Revs. E.C. Andrews, C.C. Myers, W.B. Shinn, J.W. Alred, D.D. Bailey, H.R. Kee, and Mr. H.W. Owens. Mr. Andrews was chosen chairman and Mr. Myers, secretary. The organization will act unitedly in seeing after the spiritual and moral welfare of the town and vicinity."
The Y's Men's service clubs have been invaluable supporters of the Cannon Memorial YMCA since the first club initiated in Kannapolis on March 17, 1941. The club was renamed the J.T. Fesperman club in honor of the founder, a former YMCA CEO. The John R. Mott club was chartered in October 1946 and the Henry Grimes club was chartered in 1955. Interestingly, the Fesperman club membership was predominantly professionals from the mill while the Mott club was comprised of mostly second shift foremen. Many mill professionals gained their leadership experience through the YMCA.
Like many other institutions in Kannapolis, the library began in the YMCA. In 1932 the first librarian, Edith McLaurity Barbee, was hired. During her ten-year tenure, the library functioned as a recreational reading source for children, adolescents and adults. Helen Thayer Shinn became librarian in 1942. Mary Ella Cannon treasured the library and had a great desire to support North Carolina writers. The YMCA held an annual dinner to recognize North Carolina writers.
The Cannon Memorial YMCA continued to be supported by the Cannon Mills Company through the early 1980s as the YMCA served as the recreation arm of the company. However, the sale of the Cannon Mills Company to Dole Foods CEO David H. Murdock set in motion distinctive changes in the company's relationship with the YMCA.
Picture: Current Kannapolis branch during construction in 1986.
Those Hot Days of Summer - Day Camp & After School
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The YMCA Summer Day Camp experience today reflects many of the original activities enjoyed at Camp Elliott. Current day camp and Camp Elliott activities included swimming, arts and crafts and trips along with specialty camps like science, drama and Camp Chlorine (swimming camp).
Picture: Young Campers show their Camp Elliott spirit in its early days.